ARMED FORCES ASSOCIATION: AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME?

From protecting territorial integrity on the icy heights of Siachen Glacier to rescuing ‘Prince’ from the bore well, the Armed Forces have never failed the nation. Why then, are the Defence Forces repeatedly getting a raw deal in terms of pay and allowances, pensions and service related issues as compared to their colleagues in the civil services? Denial of legitimate dues to men in and outside uniform lowers morale, which is the sine qua non for victory on the battlefield. While technology is an enabler, it is the man behind the gun that matters and must never be ignored. To quote Kautilya, “The day a soldier demands his dues, shall be a sad day for Magadha, as on that day onwards you have lost the moral authority to be the King”.

India’s bureaucracy has consistently been insensitive to the legitimate dues of the soldier, and till date, continues to successfully block every issue on Pay and Service conditions of Armed Forces (serving and veterans). The Armed Forces have been kept out of the Central Pay Commission (CPC) and various committees formed to address anomalies affecting Pay and Service conditions, unlike other government organisation such as railways and central armed police organisations. This is despite the Government having announced in the Parliament that a separate Pay Commission for the Armed Forces will be set-up. Consequently, the Armed Forces have been downgraded in status and their entitlements have been unilaterally withdrawn.

The Armed Forces Personnel have also been denied the right to be part of or form associations of any sort as other services such as the IAS/ IPS, other All India Group A Service Officers and other Government Employees have. As per the “Rules of Business” of the Government, the three Service Chiefs have no direct access to the Raksha Mantri, Prime Minister and the Supreme Commander. They are required to go through the bureaucracy and thus are hampered in conveying to the political leadership, the issues that affect the morale of the Armed Forces. As a result, issues pertaining to Pay and Allowances, career and financial benefits like Non Functional Financial Upgradation (NFFU) and travel entitlements were denied to Armed Forces, but accorded to their civilian brethren. Now, even entitled rations to officers in peace areas stand withdrawn and replaced with a measly cash allowance — a retrograde step, if ever there was any.

If we maintain status quo then we should be prepared for the bubble of discontentment amongst the ranks to burst anytime. Awareness amongst Jawans these days, is rather high. The media, including social media influences their thinking. The soldier is not prepared to accept everything and anything passively, especially in the garb of discipline/ regulations. He seeks logic or a rationale for what he is required to do and what he gets in return. With changing times one cannot isolate the Jawans from the outside world or single them out with curbs and restrictions while his counterparts in other Government agencies including security related agencies enjoy all the freedom. The BJP led NDA Government had promised a Veterans Commission — a Statutory Body — but this too remains unfulfilled. There is an urgent need to review the present Service Regulations and amend these to legitimise a channel for rank and file to express their aspirations in an organised and formal manner. Formation of Association as permitted for IAS/ IPS and other all India group A service officers and government employees need to be permitted for all ranks of the Armed Forces too.

In my discussions with friends and colleagues in the Defence fraternity some remarked — How can we have an Association for the Armed Forces? They will become like Trade Unions! I found this quite amusing that Armed Forces Association was surmised as Trade Union. Here it may be pertinent to point out that many countries of the world such as the United Kingdom, United States of America, Denmark, Germany and Australia have Armed Forces Association in some form or the other with minor variations to suit their respective legal and constitutional imperatives. These Armed Forces Associations have been functioning fairly well and providing an effective sounding board for having a say in the interest of the men and women who serve the nation. The success of Associations in some of the above mentioned countries is mainly due to the powerful “lobbies” of political and corporate leaders who are veterans from defence. We have to concurrently look for such lobbies in our context to support the proposed Armed Forces Association since democracy runs on lobbies. [Links: UK: https://baff.orguk/independent-staffassociation- for-uk-forces; USA: https://www.ausa.org/ Germany: https://www.cesi.org/members/dbwv/]

To conclude, I would like to say that the Defence Forces should also form an Association for the Indian Armed Forces Personnel on the lines of other modern Armed Forces to meet the aspiration of all ranks, veterans and their families. This will go a long way to enhance the quality, morale and strength of the Armed Forces as well as remove present drawbacks mentioned above. Unity amongst serving and veteran fraternity is a prerequisite to overcome existing hurdles.

Brigadier Ramnarayan Vinayak, VSM is a veteran Air Defence Gunner. He presently works for the welfare of ‘Veer Naris’ in Madhya Pradesh.

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